At the age of 39, Botsalo Mosimanewatlala is pushing the boundaries as an assistant referee.
Determined, talented and highly qualified, during her 12-year career Mosimanewatlala has officiated at some of the biggest domestic football matches in the men’s game, both in the Premier League and the Mascom Top8.
Internationally, she has travelled the world, taking charge of the All Africa Games final on more than one occasion.
Voice Sport’s TSHEPO KEHIMILE sat down with the reserved Molepolole-born lass as she shares her experiences on the field.
Q. Thank you for agreeing to meet. Briefly tell us about yourself?
A. Thanks for the interview. My name is Botsalo Mosimanewatlala and I was born and raised in Molepolole in Goo Maoto ward.
Q. And when did your passion for sports develop?
A. My love for sports started when I was at primary school.
I took part in athletics and I was really good at it.
It continued up until my senior level when I went on to further my studies at Naledi Brigade and Gaborone Technical College (GTC) doing a Diploma in Accounting.
Q. Take us through your refereeing career. When and how did it start?
A. To be honest my refereeing career did not start willingly.
I was still pursuing athletics as a long-distance runner but I sustained a major injury which forced me to stop running for a year.
Unfortunately, when I returned I could not reach the same level as before.
To keep fit I started training with referees who conducted their training sessions at the University of Botswana Stadium.
They asked me to join them and that was the start of everything – it was back in 2008.
Q. Refereeing remains a male-dominated profession, especially locally. Why did you decide to take it up?
A. Yes, refereeing is a male-dominated field in our local ranks.
But I told myself that I could not fail because men were able to do it.
Even, when I was doing athletics, I was the only woman running long distances among men and I did very well scooping a series of medals along the way.
Hence I believed that I could be a successful referee one day.
Q. As an aspirant referee, who was your role model?
A. I grew up watching the likes of Orebotse Kekobang, Fido Ramatlhaku and Yvonne Letota who were impressive at the time I was still new to refereeing.
I learned quite a lot from them and I really loved how they did their work.
At that time, Letota was the only woman accredited by FIFA and I attended various matches she officiated so that I might learn one or two things about refereeing.
Q. What refereeing qualifications do you hold?
A. I have acquired so many qualifications as a referee!
But I only got to be accredited as a FIFA assistant referee in 2011, which proved a prosperous year for me.
Later that same year, I was called to officiate at the COSAFA Women’s Championship in Zimbabwe.
As a rookie I proved my worth and participated in the tournament until it reached the semi-final stage.
In 2012, I was called-up again to the prestigious Women Championships in Cameroon and did well.
Then I was on duty again at the All Africa Games held in Mozambique and got the opportunity to officiate at the finals.
I went on to another Women Championship in Equatorial Guinea and finished at the quarter-finals.
In 2013, I was called for a Confederation of African Federation (CAF) Elite B course in Egypt.
Then I went to Congo, Brazzaville for the All Africa Games, again officiating in the final.
And finally in 2015, I did my Elite A referees course. From 2016 till to date, I have been on CAF and FIFA Elite A courses.
Q. What would you say is the hardest match you have ever been involved in?
A. It has to be the 2017 Mascom Top 8 semi-final encounter between Jwaneng Galaxy and Mochudi Centre Chiefs.
Galaxy were leading for most of the game by a single goal but Chiefs scored a late equaliser to force extra time.
The tempo increased; it was very tense!
Internationally, it’s the 2018 Algarve Cup in Portugal; the match was between Portugal and Brazil.
It was a semi-final and both teams were desperate to get to the final.
Mind you the European ladies do not play like us – they play with high intensity thus as referees we have to be on point.
Q. Take us through your biggest achievements as a referee?
A. In that particular Mascom Top8 match I officiated, I received a Top Assistant Referee accolade at the Mascom Top8 Awards Ceremony.
On the international stage, I am proud that I’m now a World Cup candidate.
I’m patiently waiting for that time to come and make my debut at the World Cup – nobody in the country has ever reached that stage before!
Q. What are some of the challenges you face as a female referee?
A. There are so many challenges that we face as female referees.
In most cases it’s the use of vulgar language from the players and the fans.
We always try to ignore it but these words get to our hearts!
I remember a time when I was officiating a match and the supporters were saying I should go back home and feed the children as people have not yet accepted that women can be referees as well.
Q. You are on the cusp of turning 40 – what do you still hope to achieve in the game?
A. I have achieved a lot in my career as an assistant referee and I am proud of my achievements but I still want to see myself at the World Cup rubbing shoulders with the big boys.
I would also jump at the chance to officiate at the Olympics if the opportunity presents itself.
Q. Away from refereeing, what do you do on the side?
A. As far as I am concerned, my focus is only refereeing.
I have never worked nor done anything besides refereeing.
Q. How do you survive on a referee’s wage?
A. I do not survive only on referees wage because it is not enough.
Fortunately there is immense support that I get from my family to be able to survive.
Q. How do you rate the standard of refereeing in the country?
A. I believe the standard of refereeing in the country is stagnant and that is caused by the poor status of our league.
If we could have teams competing at CAF tournaments consistently we could be having referees extracted from our country to officiate in big games internationally, hence the standard would improve.
Q. What do you think can be done to groom young referees locally?
A. That one depends on every individual, what each one of them wants in terms of being a good referee.
But I believe something can be done to help them by showing the importance of learning how to be competent referees.
Furthermore, there has to be continuity when it comes to attending of courses.
In our instance, we always see different faces every course.
Q. Have you ever made a bad call in a game? Tell us more.
A. [Laughing] We are human and are bound to make mistakes.
In my case I recently did a mistake when I was officiating the 2019/20 Mascom Top8 semi-final match between Township Rollers and BDF XI.
When the match started we noticed that the kits clashed a bit but the game went ahead anyway.
When I was supposed to signal the ball in Rollers favour, I gave it to BDF instead.
However, I flagged to the referee to change my decision because the ball had not been played yet!
Another common mistake made by referees is for offside.
In my case it was during a league match between BDF XI and Orapa United at Otse Sports Complex.
It was drizzling a bit and I lost concentration, closing my eyes for a split second.
In that very moment, the Orapa United striker had already passed and I flagged him for offside.
But when we went to half-time I was told that I made a bad call as it was not offside.
I admitted my mistake because of the rain and lapse in concentration.
Q. What do you do in your spare time?
A. I am always home during my spare time.
I do not like going out unnecessarily.
However, sometimes I visit my family in Molepolole.
Q. And finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what have you got planned?
A. As referees, we always focus on the match we will be officiating and start to prepare ourselves mentally for that particular encounter.
We are only told which game we’ll be officiating on Thursday.